My thoughts on Veteran’s Day.

How should a pacifist approach Veteran’s Day? It’s a day that always makes me a little uneasy. On this day my social media feeds are filled with recognition of those who have served in the military. And I am usually silent. I have no desire to disrespect veterans or those who are in military service now, some of whom are family members of mine. So I usually let the day pass without thinking too much about the unease that I feel with every post. But I don’t post either, because I do not want to condone the system of violence that underlies much of the messages we hear about the military. Can we respect individuals while also critiquing a government that makes really poor choices with their use of the military? Can we honor the service of these individuals while also promoting the way of peace and questioning whether being a military power is at all wise? I recognize that many may think my questions are in bad taste on this day. I anticipate that my silence is exactly what quite a few people would prefer. So, I’m choosing a compromise. I’m posting this blog on the day after Veteran’s Day is observed. But I am still posting it because I think these things are important things to be having a conversation about.

Over the last week I have seen the evidence of the public school system’s indoctrination of my children as we approached this day. And I feel a responsibility to point out the problems I see in the messages they are receiving. My 9 year old has started musing about which branch of the military he will join when he grows up, and asking me again why it is that he can’t play violent video games. My 5 year old gave me his handout about veterans and asked me to read the words across the bottom of the sheet — “Thank you for being brave.”

Now, I know that these things seem harmless to most people, and maybe even beneficial. But to this pacifist momma, they make me cringe. I have told my 9 year old that just because his parents are pacifists does not mean that he has to be. He’s asked me if I will be upset if he grows up and joins the military and I have said that I do not plan to meddle in his life when he is an adult. It will be his decision. But right now, as his parent, I also feel the need to make sure he is hearing more than one message, because I know his fascination with the idea comes from an American ideal that I do not support–the glorification of violence.

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And my 5 year old? This bothers me perhaps the most. None of my other kids did their Kindergarten year in an American public school, and I am discouraged that the message begins so young. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset that they taught him what a veteran is, or that they encouraged him to thank them. But I am upset with the way the message was framed. When we discussed it today, these were his words: “Veterans are all around us, like God. They are there to protect us. And they have guns so they can keep us safe from bad guys.” Oh man, there are so many problematic pieces to this that it is hard to even know where to begin. And in our conversation while I was yet again trying to convince my son that “bad guys” do not actually exist he responded. “You are wrong. They do. They are in other countries.” Gah! Do you know how hard it is to deconstruct these ideas once they are in a 5 year old’s head? Now, granted, I am not entirely sure he understood what he was saying. He was upset with me because he thought that I was somehow telling him that veterans were the bad guys, and I wasn’t. So, maybe he just meant that veterans are in other countries. Hopefully I misunderstood him and he wasn’t actually repeating some nationalist agenda. I don’t know. But I am frustrated. Somehow my 5 year old believes that guns exist to keep him safe, and that the world is somehow made up of good guys and bad guys, a dichotomy that is possibly even defined by national boundaries.

The simple phrase–thank you for being brave–he has really latched on to. Can those who serve in the military be brave? Absolutely! But something about this message seems to equate military service unequivocally with bravery, which belittles the actual brave actions that do occur on the battlefield and completely ignores the brave acts of those peaceful warriors who choose to stand in opposition to a government that sends these men and women into war often needlessly. “Hero” is another word that I hear a lot on this day. Individual military personnel often do heroic things, but please do not tell my children that just putting on a uniform of brown or green or blue automatically makes them a hero. Why does that bother me? Because if we think that a person’s actions are automatically heroic because of their uniform, it becomes too easy to justify harm in the name of heroism. It becomes too easy to act out questionable orders in the name of duty. It becomes too easy to kill in the name of patriotism. Last week a veteran with a gun (someone who in my son’s words should be there to protect him) entered a bar and killed someone else’s sons and daughters. We must be able to critique this. We must be able to ask the hard question of whether or not our military, our government, our system that glorifies violence in the name of patriotism had something to do with this.  

Veterans are important. Their sacrifices and service should be remembered and recognized. But not blindly. We must open our eyes and see how our country has broken many of them, and not be afraid to ask the question: Was it worth it? We can love and honor and respect those who’ve chosen to serve while also speaking up against the violence the larger system perpetrates. And we can tell our children the whole story, the true reasons wars are fought, the heavy weight of responsibility they will carry if they choose to pick up a gun in the name of their country, and the humanity that exists on both sides of national borders; so that when the choice is theirs, they can look beyond the rhetoric and make a truly informed choice.

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A little bit of poetry.

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It should be obvious to anyone who reads my blog that I tend to express myself in prose, not poetry. But there have been occasions when poetry comes to me unexpectedly. I have no idea if it would stand scrutiny by anyone who actually knows how to write or critique or even how to read poetry, but when words come to me in this fashion, it feels important to write them down. Sometimes art is the attempt to communicate something that cannot be easily expressed in other ways.

I attended a conference entitled “Evolving Faith” a couple weeks ago. It was a very full two days of listening to intense speakers presenting how an evolving faith intersects with relationships, parenting, social justice, politics, art, theology, church and everything in between. I soaked in the words, trying to internalize, to critique, to listen, to learn. All the things. And afterwards I was so exhausted all I could do was bundle up all the swirling words I had heard and carry them deep into my soul where they pulsed with color and light as I tried to tuck them away safely into the fabric of my being. Little bits and pieces of it have emerged when things come up in conversations with others, but for the most part, I haven’t really touched these things intentionally yet.

But, twice in the last two weeks, words have bubbled up unexpectedly in poetic form. Words that express the feelings and emotions that this conference stirred in me better than I can right now in prose. And so, here are two poems. One more personally expresses the painful intersection of internal faith shift and external action; the other is an encouragement to those who I’ve intentionally left behind, a call for them to join me.

Where to stand

I don’t know where to stand,
On the rock or in the sand.

I don’t know where to wait,
In the crooked or the straight.

I don’t know where to fight,
In the dark or in the light.

I don’t know what to do,
Turn away or follow you.

I don’t know the shape my voice takes.
Is it the breath of angels
or the roar of lions that I make?

I don’t know the power that I hold.
Is it the force that builds the new
or the fire that burns the old?

If I were hurt and if I bled,
Would my blood be white or is it red?

If I were asked to be bold,
Could I find a hand to hold?

And when we go out into the night,
Will we make peace or will we fight?

 

A Call to the Evangelical Church

Step out.
Step out from the faith you have known.
Go forth into the great unknown.
Move forward with your head held high.
But hurry, for there isn’t much time.

There are people here who are crying.
There are people here who are dying.
There are people here.
There are people.

Step out.
Step out from the faith you have known.
Go forth into the great unknown.
Find beauty in the ashes.
Stand shoulder to shoulder with the masses.

There is truth here to build hope with.
There is hope here to build a home with.
There is love here.
There is peace.

Step out.
Step out from the faith you have known.
Go forth into the great unknown.
Let go of your assumptions.
The idea that all that isn’t you is nothing.

There are people here who are striving.
There are people here who are thriving.
There are people here.
There are people.

Step out.
Step out from the faith you have known.
Go forth into the great unknown.
The kingdom of God is near.
The kingdom of God is here.

There is freedom here for those who doubt.
There is freedom here for those who shout.
There is freedom here.
There is freedom.

The Ritual of Renewal

Today I started bleeding. This monthly rite of womanhood is a reminder of the flow of life. Of time passing, yet always returning to the origin. A reminder of where things begin. A breath. A break. A place I am invited to each month. 

I know that many women my age want to be rid of this. If they have chosen to be done with childbearing, they feel ready to also be done with the bleeding. To them, menopause will be a release, a freedom. Freedom from the fear and worry of pregnancy; freedom from the inconvenience of bleeding.

I wonder if I am alone in viewing this monthly ritual as freedom itself. It is this time of the month when I feel that my body is mine and mine alone. No matter how empowered, how informed, and how self-confident I am, I still struggle with those past voices in my head and the training I was given by my culture. The history of my patriarchal society told me that my body belongs to someone else. The story I was given was that in marriage my husband possesses me and in motherhood my children rely on me to be self-sacrificing. I pour myself out for others and there is guilt, a burden that I carry anytime I say “no.” Except when I am bleeding. When I am bleeding I know that my body is mine and mine alone. When I am bleeding there is no guilt. I allow myself permission to make space within myself for me. I allow myself the luxury of boundaries around my body. I say no to sex and feel no guilt. I more readily tell my children that I need space and time for myself. What I sometimes label as grumpiness is really my body reminding me that I exist. 

Day one of a woman’s cycle the body stops the process of creating space for the other. Before that moment, it has been preparing gifts, sacrificing of itself to provide for another. It has quite literally created a space within me for someone else. On day one the focus shifts to the body itself. The lining of the uterus is shed, the space that was created to receive life is released and the body heals itself to prepare to do the process all over again. 

Six times, possibly seven, that space my body created received a life. My womb began the process of pouring into another human being. Once, possibly twice, that life was lost within days to miscarriage. And five times I had the privilege of joining in the creative act of God. My heart beat not just for me, but for another. The space that was prepared was filled and grew with the life of a child. Five times I labored, gave myself to the painful act of releasing that life into the world, watching it separate from myself to become a separate being. 

And every month as my body goes through the process of the preparation for life, I am reminded of the strength of being a woman. I am reminded that we give, over and over again to others. That we pour of ourselves, give gifts, create, and serve those around us. Life giving birth to life. All of this beauty, all of this sacrifice, all of this joy, all of this pain. In the rhythm of the menstrual cycle, all of it is revealed, over and over again. Our capacity, our sacrifice, our strength and our pain.

Day one. Day one, we release it. Our focus turns inward. When I bleed, I belong not to my husband or to my children, but to myself. When I bleed I am reminded that in order to sustain my ability to give to others, I must also give to myself. I do not live in a culture that recognizes this externally. Sometimes I wish I did. Not in a shameful way, but in an empowered way. I wish we as women had the courage to step aside, retreat and reconnect with ourselves, our shared womanhood, and our need to be filled. So that when we step back into the lives of those we love, we can give freely, fully, without restraint. So that when we give, it is not because we have been told to give, but because we know our own capacity to give. So that when we pour ourselves out, we do not worry about being emptied, because we know that each month the time will come again when we will be filled, because we choose to love ourselves as much as the other. I wish that this monthly rite and ritual would free us. Free us to love. Free us to give. Free us to know who we are, so that we can enter the lives of others without losing ourselves.lifegiving

The Swirling Storm in my Head.

swirlingmindI walked to the bus stop this morning and felt that suddenly I could breathe again. The last few days have been HOT. Heat indexes in the 100’s and humidity that leaves you dripping and struggling to breathe. But this morning the temperature finally broke a little bit. It’s still hot, but it was raining just a tiny bit and cloudy. It was as if the weather had been holding in stress and emotions until something broke and she softly cried this morning as she released a bit of the tension she’s been holding.

I feel like my mood has mirrored the same transition these last two weeks. I jumped in to summer head first. You would have thought I would have learned from last year’s experience that I cannot be superwoman, at least not for very long. But somehow when all my kids are home, instead of settling into a more relaxed outlook on life, I find myself trying to do everything. I will feed everyone! I will keep the house clean! I will spend quality time with each kid! I can do this!

Maybe it is because I know that summer is hard. I go into it full of energy, pouring myself in because I know that it will take all of me to get through it. This summer has been better than last summer. Last summer, John’s depression was so heavy that I could feel it when I walked into a room where he was. Last summer, my purpose in doing everything was to try to remove some of the burden from him. Last summer, I crashed. All I accomplished was to make myself sick.

So, I know that I need to take it easy. Do only what is reasonable and choose those things that I need to let go of. I need to demand time for myself in each week. I need to find a rhythm. And I will.

But in the midst of this beginning of summer, in the midst of my struggle to find what I can and cannot handle, there was something else just under the surface, something I didn’t even realize was affecting me. As the heat built outside, the same tension built in me until I woke one morning at 4am. It started as a weird uncomfortable dream. One I don’t even remember the details of, but when I woke the emotions and feelings I’d been ignoring were all there, right in the front of my mind as if they had bubbled up from deep within me, finally breaking through to the surface.

It was, unfortunately, not one of the moments when suddenly all the pieces come together and the solution feels obvious. No, on the contrary, I am sitting in the middle of whirling and competing desires, needs, and circumstances and I have no idea how they are all going to fall into place. But it is time that I notice how much those swirling items are affecting me, how much attention they do need. I cannot ignore them, because there are other people in my family that also need to process this stuff and I need to be awake so we can do it together.

This will get really long if I try to explain all the moving parts, but they all have to do with the impending reality of our near future. In less than a year, we will no longer be a seminary family. John will graduate and we will move on to the next step in life. But, for not the first time in life, that next step feels very unclear. There feels like there are so many competing voices in this decision. There’s the desire of the bishop of Arkansas that we should return there. There’s the desire of my husband to not return to AR, based on some very strong practical and emotional reasons. There’s the aching heart of my teenage daughter who has tearfully requested that we stay here and let her finish her high school career with these friends she’s made here. There’s my job that I love, and also my dreams for the future. There’s the whole family’s strong desire to settle down, find a place that we can call home. There’s the uncertainty of the state of our country, an unsettledness that has us constantly discussing the possibility of moving outside these borders. There’s the very real practicality of making sure we generate an income large enough to support our family. As much as we don’t like making our decisions based on money, we do require a base level to survive and a slightly higher level to thrive.

And I’m in the middle of it all. I can see the value in each of the possible directions we head. I can see a place for myself and my dreams in each of them. None of them precludes my hopes for the future. I’m thankful for that. But each of the choices means something different for the mental and emotional health of one or more members of this family. Each choice may affect opportunities for the future for one or more members of this family. And I care about each member of this family. So much that it hurts.

My 4am awakening to the reality of the presence of all this surrounding me didn’t solve anything. But it started a conversation. And that conversation will lead to more conversations. And hopefully eventually a choice will be made. And I hope and pray that whatever that choice is will move us forward to a place of health and peace. I may feel helpless right now, but I do not feel hopeless.

Individual vs. Collective Hope

Last Sunday I sat in Christian formation and felt the familiar rise of emotion. I have been enjoying this class each week as it encourages me to think, and it hasn’t failed yet to rile me up. As we discuss different stories and themes from the Bible, usually the Old Testament, I am struck by how many different ways there are to understand certain things and how rather than floating on a boat of apathy in a peaceful sea of uncertainty (which is where I thought I still was in this process of faith shift), I find I have replaced many of my former beliefs with rather strong ones that are often in opposition to the ones I once held. This group gives me a chance to examine those, and to find ways to share them out loud in hopefully respectfully kind ways, while also learning to listen to competing viewpoints with a critical ear (not just critical to their side, but just as much so to mine). Still working on that.

Most of the time I just listen, it often takes a few hours or days for me to fully process the conversation we had and decide how I feel about it. And this Sunday, the emotion that rose in me was stronger and very different than that which I have been feeling. It was grief. Strong, undeniable grief. The kind that causes your face to flush and your breathing to rise as you fight the urge to burst into tears in front of a group of people you hardly know.

The theme we were discussing was the Exodus. What this central story from the Old Testament meant to the Israelites and what it can mean for us. Hope. Hope was the word that was coming out of the story. Hope that no matter how low we drop, how horrible the circumstances that surround us, we will come back up again. We will be delivered.

I listened as one person after another shared what that meant to them personally. And because one person specifically brought up something that had happened to his daughter when she was just an infant, and was sharing how he coped with and still copes with the permanent effects this had on her, my gut wrenched with pain. This conversation had suddenly veered too close to home. The words he shared were very similar to words that I have shared in the process of grieving the loss of my 7 month old daughter. They were words of searching, searching for purpose in the tragedy, for hope for himself in the midst of his daughter’s pain.

But, oddly I found myself resonating much more with another man who shared something that was rather different in focus. Instead of looking for purpose in his own story, he instead focuses on presence. God was there and is there in the midst of it. And for him, that was enough. Someone else tried to explain the purpose of pain in the world, or the reason for it, but the explanation was not enough for me. I’ve heard it before and it no longer made the sense I used to think it did. And then another woman shared a hope that went beyond herself and to her family, the hope she held that they would survive and thrive even if she were to die from the cancer that she had just been diagnosed with.

There was so much emotion writhing in my gut. I spoke once, and it was only to share the less than cheery fact that in the story of the Exodus, the people that were brought out of Egypt, were not the same people that entered the land of Canaan. A whole generation died in the wilderness, waiting for the promise they were given. The hope of the Jews is not an individual hope. It is a collective one. WE will be saved. WE will rise again. WE will gain our promised land.

Why was it that that one part of the story is the only one I felt compelled to comment on? Why did some of the hope that was shared in that circle Sunday morning sound so hollow to me, while other versions of it resonated? Why did the whole conversation leave me feeling so unsettled? It was as if there was nothing answered for me, but rather a stirring of the waters that left everything murky and dark and confusing.

As I talked it over with John Sunday evening, while the echo of the emotion still sounded in my shaky voice and the tears I hadn’t cried that morning wet my eyes with just a touch of sadness, I realized that I felt unsettled because there were no simple easy answers to the questions that pain and suffering stir up. The world does not appear to work in a purposefully ordered way. God does not appear to work in a purposefully ordered way. The only thing I could cling to was that an individual hope was not enough. Because too often an individual hope is proved false. What happens when 58 people’s lives are cut short by a senseless shooting in Las Vegas? Where is the hope for those people? What happens when someone continues to live in despair and pain even after crying out continually to God to save them? What does hope mean to them? What happens when a 7 month old baby girl dies for the inexplicable reason that her body was just not born as perfect as it should have been?

An individual hope focuses on ourselves. It looks for what happens to me. How can I find hope in the midst of the senseless violence? How can I go on after the death of my daughter? How many blessings do I have that others don’t? These aren’t entirely negative questions. It is normal for us to find the personal relevance within the questions. It is normal to look for purpose in the pain. I believe that we have to do that to a certain extent in order to survive.

But I also believe we are missing something much greater when we focus solely on an individual hope. In our US culture, an individualistic point of view is common and expected. Our faith has to do with the individual. Our salvation has to do with the individual. Our hope has to do with the individual. The majority of Christian faith that I have seen in the US tends to be rather hopeless rather than hopeful. We have given up on a world that does not appear to be getting any better and began to focus on a hope that only truly exists in the afterlife. Even there that hope is limited, limited only to those who somehow individually find their way to God. This is not the way that everyone has or does live. The Israelites hope was collective. I am not as well studied in this as my husband, but I believe that their identity as a nation was much more important than their individual identity. Why else would a story in which nearly everyone dies, still be a story of hope? Where a remnant remains, there is still hope. Hope that the nation, the community will survive.

This is a hope that is so much bigger than the individual. This is a hope that goes beyond one person. This is a hope that can look at senseless suffering and say, “Things look bleak. But I hope for a day when people live in a world where violence does not take lives. I hope for a world where all people are cared for. I hope for a world where peace is the rule of the day. I believe in the kingdom of God. I believe that it can and will exist.”

I find greater peace in this absolutely almost foolish hope than I do in the attempts to find purpose in the suffering. This hope for me goes beyond death, because I can hope that even if it doesn’t happen in my lifetime, it can still happen in someone’s. And the weird crazy thing about this type of collective hope is that when enough of us believe it can be true, then it actually begins to hold the possibly that it will be.

Living with loneliness.

miriam_profileThis post might be a bit long, because I realized as I processed this a bit this week, that loneliness has been my traveling companion for quite a few years. It hasn’t always been the same, but it has been there. And I think it is that loneliness that inspires me to help people find their village. Because I long so much for one of my own. I’ve found it sometimes. And that knowledge of what it is like makes me long for it all the time.

Several years ago I lived in a large fairly new house with a very large back yard. My kids were about 9, 4 and 3. I was attempting to homeschool my oldest while also keeping two very active little boys occupied. I was feeding my family, hoping for a clean house, and also running a business. My days were full, but the people I interacted with all day long were my children. It took me awhile to realize that I was lonely. That what I was longing for was a community of people to live life with. People that weren’t all children begging me to meet their never ending needs all day long. I longed to do housework alongside someone else. I wanted to have adult conversations that went beyond the niceties. I wished for friends who would come into my messy life and be a part of it.

I wasn’t without friends, but it was becoming very clear to me that the American culture did not easily make room for deep and meaningful relationships. People just didn’t have time to step out of their own lives and into other people’s very often. Once I realized what I was longing for, I was able to see that it was something worth longing for. I believe people do live more fulfilled and contented lives when they have people that they are sharing them with.

During most of my mothering career I did participate in a mother’s group that helped to meet that need. There was one year that my small group within that group became to me a community unlike any I had ever known. It only happened once in that perfect “I can’t believe these people are all my friends” sort of way, but those friends I made then were a big part of my life. They were my village.

Shortly after that time, John and I moved out into the country, into an old farmhouse that someone was willing to rent to us. We were surrounded by land, which we loved. We started pursuing some of the things I had always longed to do. John built me a chicken coop and I mail ordered a box of fuzzy little chicks. We bought two perfectly adorable miniature goats and John and I worked together to fence in a portion of the field for them. I loved that house. I loved the things we were dreaming about. But it was even more lonely. It took nearly half an hour to get into town, so I didn’t go that often, saving my trips to consolidate my time.

But it was also in that house that for possibly the first time in my life I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking with my husband. It was during that time of our life that we started looking at the possibility of real adventures. We talked about mission work, and we started looking at possibilities, and then chose Germany as our desired destination. Life was purposeful and exciting and we were working together to make our dreams reality. My husband and I were making our own little village of sorts.

We moved back into town into a little tiny rental because we needed to be closer to meet with people and raise financial support. My contribution to our support raising endeavors felt very real and appreciated. We met with people several times a week and shared deep conversations. We realized how sad it was that it wasn’t until we were leaving that we actually had our first real conversations with friends that we’d had for years. It was a hard, weird, and exciting time. But it wasn’t particularly lonely.

Eventually the long awaited day of our flight came. We finished up packing all the possessions we hadn’t sold into our bags and headed across the ocean. I think I expected Germany to be lonely. I was 20 weeks pregnant, and not assigned to any specific job in the mission. I was leaving behind friends that I’d had for years. I was leaving behind a church I’d attended since I was a kid. There were definitely lonely times, but they were often interrupted by the unexpected kindness of a community that welcomed us with open arms. Like when I got the flu shortly after arriving and someone brought me soup and muffins and someone else took my son to and from kindergarten. And when I was in the hospital wishing my mom and family were there to help welcome our newborn son and we were visited by new friends who showed they truly cared.

And a few months into our stay I found a group of friends who are still the people that I tell everything to. A group of moms who all found themselves in very similar circumstances and all clung together sharing life and real deep conversations. I had found my village again and I was happy. We moved away from Germany a short while later as did many in that group then and in subsequent years. We find ourselves all over the place now, but we are still an online village. It isn’t the same, but it is something that I am thankful I have.

Ironically, my husband was entering a very lonely period in his life. He hadn’t realized how much he would miss the friends he’d made in recent years. How much he’d miss the interactions and their supportive conversations. He and I were growing even closer as I learned to be more honest and open with him, and as we learned to rely on each other for the community we needed. But I did not realize at the time the depth of the depression he had entered, the hopelessness he often felt, the weight of the questions he was asking.

When we came back to Arkansas I entered a period of loneliness that I wasn’t quite prepared for. I was returning to a place that was supposed to be home to me. I had friends and family there. But it wasn’t like everyone had left a Miriam sized hole waiting for me to step back into it. I felt like I had to force my way back into relationships. I know it wasn’t that people were purposefully leaving me out, but it didn’t feel as effortless as I had hoped. I was a different person who was starting to believe very differently than I had before, and it was hard to find where I fit into people’s lives. I was also very wary, waiting to see how each person would react to the new things I was learning and changing my mind on. Even if they accepted me and respected me in the midst of disagreement, it was hard to acknowledge that the majority of my friends did disagree with me. My therapist told me when I talked to her about my loneliness that self-discovery really is a very lonely process and that only when I was more sure of who I was would I be able to step into relationships in that real way again. It helped to know that some of that loneliness was to be expected, but it was still hard.

There were hurts during that time as well. Because of my changing perspective on LGBTQ issues, I was asked to step down from leadership in the mothering group that had been so life-giving to me before. And that still hurts. Even now, I get tears in my eyes thinking about it. A group of women I respected, who had respected and valued me, now looked at me differently. A church I had grown up in and felt at home with had rejected me. I felt that I was suddenly not trusted, not respected, and not valued. Some of the women in that group have made it clear to me since then that they do not feel that way, but my emotional reaction to what happened made it very hard to find community where I once had.

My family, thankfully, welcomed me back easily, but my relationship with them was a bit more distant as I allowed myself to question all the assumptions I was raised with and found myself moving down a different faith path than the one they were on. Self-discovery meant recognizing that I am not my family and they are not me and learning to be ok with that.

We also left the church we had known since childhood, which was understandably very hard. I realized very quickly how much of my socialization happened in church. We were attending a church I loved. In fact more than ever I loved being at church for the service, but I felt a bit like a stranger in the midst of these people who were so new to me. Despite being an extrovert, I have learned that I do not start conversations easily. Start a conversation with me and with very little encouragement I will reveal my deepest soul secrets, but expect me to initiate and you will hear very little from me. Plus, I feel like mothering littles on a Sunday morning greatly restricts your ability to interact with adults. And so I felt that my relationship building was very slow. It was happening, but it was also happening in what we knew was probably a short term stay in Arkansas, which meant always questioning whether friendship was worth pursuing for such a short time.

I did have a little village there though. There was a small group we met with weekly for a time. People who were also looking for friends to truly live with. And my husband and I entered what I consider the best part of our married life thus far. We were closer, more honest, open and vulnerable with each, than we ever had been. And as a result we truly enjoyed each other’s company. We still dreamt, though the dreams were all over the place, so the plans were fuzzy and incomplete.

Eventually, we left Arkansas to go to Virginia. I was supportive of my husband’s desire to pursue an MDiv and possibly ordination. I believed in him and so supported our move even in the midst of uncertainty of how I fit into all of it. I didn’t want to lose myself after having finally found it. Ironically what met us here in Virginia was a life seemingly all set up and ready for me and the kids, and disappointment, disillusionment, and depression for my husband. We had moved for him and everyone was thriving except for him. I had no idea what we were supposed to do now.

About halfway through our first year here he received a diagnosis of major depression, and suddenly a lot of the last few years made a lot more sense to me. The diagnosis was good because now we can focus on treatment. But it was hard too, because ever since that moment I think I have struggled to see my husband as something separate from the depression. Every conversation, every interaction seems to be tainted by it. The happy, unbelievable, and unexpected almost honeymoon period of the year before has been replaced by a constant internal swing in me between deep raw emotion and terrible numbness. I’ve learned to live in the present. I’ve learned to be strong. But I am sometimes very sad, and my loneliness right now not only has to do with the fact that I have very little energy to put into finding a village here, but also because I feel like I’m living a life parallel to my husband, but not WITH. Loving work, hobbies, children, life while my husband just survives beside me. It is the oddest juxtaposition I’ve ever experienced. To be so joyful in my daily life, while simultaneously feeling deep sadness at the fact that my husband is not able to share in that joy. He supports me in it, but he doesn’t feel it for himself.

And so loneliness is becoming a close friend these days. I do still believe that a village can be found everywhere, no matter what the circumstances. But sometimes it does take finding, and I’m not always sure I have the energy to pursue it. I sometimes wish it would just find me.

The gift of mystery.

kidswarmemorialIt’s interesting how much of my parenting is shaped by my experiences as a child. I struggled a lot with doubt, questions, and guilt as a child. I wanted to know the truth and rest in it, but was frustrated that my mind did not always cooperate, that I was plagued always by questions instead of certainty. It took a long time for me to accept the questions as part of my experience. And it took even longer for me to see the value of uncertainty. And because I never want my children to feel guilty for asking questions, I tend to encourage those questions.

Even before my recent faith shift away from evangelicalism towards a more progressive form of Christianity, I didn’t like to answer my kids questions with too much certainty. For one thing, I recognized that I am never sure enough myself to give them a definitive answer and for another thing, I wanted them to be ok with knowing that there were multiple answers to any one question. So when asked about science, faith, and life, I would often answer them with: “Well, some people believe a, others think b, and I tend to agree most with c.”

As I become more and more comfortable with my own questions, I have been able to be even more relaxed about theirs. I think when Elise was young, there were definitely some questions I felt that she needed a very clear answer to. If she asked about God or Jesus or salvation, then I was definitely going to give her the black and white answer I believed was necessary for salvation, even while at the same time feeling anxious over my own lack of certainty. Since my understanding of salvation has completely moved away from assertion of facts, I no longer mind allowing uncertainty in even those things that I once considered the essentials of faith.

Kids have a lot of questions, even while accepting the oddest things as truth. But Elise has always been incredibly tied to reality. She hates uncertainty and even in the course of imaginative play always wanted to know where the line of reality was. It frustrated her to no end a few years ago when Will was convinced that his stuffed animals were alive. He would not admit that he was just pretending, but stubbornly resisted her every attempt to teach him the truth. She would get so angry about this that she would try to bring me into the argument. “Mom!” she would say, “Will you please tell him that stuffed animals are NOT alive!” And I would never step in. This was more about Elise than it was about Will. I truly didn’t care if he believed his animals were real. Possibly, deep down, he knew they weren’t, but liked to rile up Elise. But I wanted Elise to be ok with letting go of control over the minds of those around her. I wanted her to be ok with uncertainty.

As the kids have gotten older, the dynamics have changed. Both Will and Seth love to believe the impossible. Or pretend that they do. I can’t always tell where the line is in their play, and that is ok. They like to live on the edge of mystery. But they don’t always like to allow the other to be comfortable there. Sibling dynamics are such that there will be teasing surrounding each one’s chosen fantasy. Will also likes to try to convince Seth of fantastical creatures’ existence because Seth so wants to believe, even when his logical side tells him this probably isn’t true. You can hear the struggle in his voice as he argues back. “That isn’t real, Will! Is it?”

The other day Will was giving Seth a hard time about Santa Claus. Seth has tried to believe in Santa Claus for years, even though we have never really “done” Santa Claus in our house. This has actually been one of those areas where my child has taught me to let go of controlling what another person believes, and now I only really step in when the naughty or nice part comes up, but that I addressed in another blog post. (If you read that blog post you’ll probably notice my lack of an emphasis on mystery in celebration. I have definitely evolved since then.)

But back to the conversation of a few weeks ago. Will asked, partly in seriousness, and partly to annoy his brother, who was sitting next to him: “Why do people believe in things that aren’t true, like Santa Claus?” “That’s a good question, Will,” I answered resorting to my tried and true parenting tactic of answering a question with a question. “Why do YOU think that people believe in things?” “Because they’re dumb?” Will answered (actually I can’t remember his exact reply, but this is most likely what he was thinking even if he didn’t say it out loud.)

Wanting to encourage Will towards self-reflection rather than attack, we brought up one of Will’s favorite fantasies. Against all evidence and in the face of opposition all around him, Will believes in dragons. So of course we brought that up. And in comparing Santa Claus and dragons (who knew those would ever come up in the same conversation?) we were able to actually ask some meaningful questions about the nature of belief.

sethtreeI don’t know if that conversation was marinating in my kids’ heads at all over the next few weeks, but I think maybe it was. Because on the way home from church a few days ago Seth asked a very serious question: “Why do people believe in God? I mean you can’t see him, we don’t know if he’s actually real. He might be or he might not be. It’s a mystery.” And rather than going into panic mode, wondering about the state of my child’s soul, I merely said: “Yep, life is full of mystery.”